Max Pacioretty credits Golden Knights’ positivity for turnaround

Watch as Max Pacioretty snaps a shot off the post and in, stick side against Jonathan Quick.

LAS VEGAS — The following thought occurred to me as I watched Max Pacioretty throw a beautiful, blind, spinning pass to Paul Stastny to record his ninth assist in his 13th game this season: If he was still in Montreal, would the discussion about his game be more centred on the fact that he’s stuck on two goals, or would people be focused on his unheralded playmaking ability?

I think we all know the answer to this one. I think Pacioretty does, too. The focus over his 10 years with the Canadiens—and especially in his three as captain—always seemed to be on why a goal scorer of his calibre wasn’t scoring often enough. And when he was scoring (which was a lot of the time), the conversation often shifted to one about the manner in which he was scoring, or, to be more precise, about how it wasn’t from close enough proximity to the net. It never seemed to matter to most how much he was contributing in other areas of the game, one way or the other.

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I have no doubt Pacioretty misses many things about living and playing in Montreal, but I sincerely doubt that’s one of them.

It must have been a huge relief for the New Canaan, Conn., native to get to Las Vegas after he was traded for Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-round pick in September of 2018. Especially after he put up just 17 goals on a Canadiens team that spiraled to the bottom of the 2017-18 Eastern Conference standings. The conversation swirling around his game—and about the prospect of Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin potentially signing him to a contract extension—was largely negative at the time, and he desperately needed a reprieve.

You could see how relieved Pacioretty was upon his arrival with the Golden Knights.

“I have the opportunity right now to just take out my brain and go play hockey,” he said in his introductory press conference in Las Vegas. “(I can) get back to what I loved doing as a kid, and that’s just going out there and having fun.”

It wasn’t a picnic for the 30-year-old, who signed a four-year, $28-million extension, to miss some time early on due to an upper-body injury. Just like closing out the season by missing seven games with a lower-body injury wasn’t any fun, either.

But all in all, it was a successful campaign for Pacioretty, who scored 22 goals and added 18 assists over 66 games. And it was an even better spring for the left winger, who scored five goals and 11 points in seven playoff games.

Golden Knights fans had to be quite pleased with what they saw.

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As for the optics around Pacioretty’s start to this season?

“Patch has been very good,” said Golden Knights team president George McPhee via text.

What he said next really caught my attention.

“Tip-top shape, strong, could have 10 goals with all the posts and crossbars he’s hit already,” McPhee continued. “Brings size and the ability to score from the outside with his shot.”

Yes. The six-foot-two, 206-pounder has always brought those attributes to the table, even if they weren’t fully appreciated in Montreal.

As for Pacioretty’s playmaking ability, that too has always been a part of his arsenal. It’s why he’s entering Thursday’s contest against his old team with a chance to register the 500th point of his NHL career—a player sitting on 250 goals and 249 assists.

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If the milestone doesn’t come against the Canadiens, it’s bound to come in short order. Players who feel good about their game don’t usually go long without producing, and Pacioretty certainly feels good about how he’s playing right now.

“I think this is some of the best hockey I’ve played in a while,” he told reporters following the Golden Knights’ practice on Wednesday. “The numbers are, I guess, good, but at the end of the day I’ve had a lot of chances and that’s really the only thing you really look at as a player. Eventually, they’ll start going in.”

Pacioretty added that at least part of the reason he’s playing so well is because he feels fully healthy for the first time in a while, that he’s more comfortable with his linemates (Stastny and Mark Stone) and that the chemistry is developing well within the entire 8-5-0 Golden Knights team.

But he also credited the “positivity in the environment around here,” as a factor not to be discounted.

It seems as though the soon-to-be 31-year-old is really at peace with where he is right now, which is something McPhee can attest to.

“Easy place for him and our players to play,” McPhee said. “Easy to get around, weather’s great, quiet place to live away from the Strip.”

It’s fair to say that’s a big change from what Pacioretty experienced in Montreal over his final three years there.


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